News & Politics

America's Massive Hypocrisy in Refusing British Muslim Family's Entry

How can the US ask that Muslims speak out against extremism when they are arbitrarily denied travel to our country on the apparent basis of their religion?

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Photo Credit: pomxpom

The Mahmood family’s ordeal at Gatwick airport in London, where the Disneyland-bound group of 11 UK citizens was pulled out of the boarding line by American officials and had their tickets cancelled, speaks to more than just the apparent institutional prejudices of the American government’s security measures.

Also laid bare are the paradoxes of the fight over Islamophobia here at home. How can we ask Muslim communities the world over – including in the US – to forcefully reject the extremists among them and, more onerously, reveal themselves as the peace-loving people they are when at the same time we fail to treat them this way at our borders?

After the San Bernardino, California, attack, where armed assailants took the lives of 14 innocent people after reportedly being radicalized, Barack Obama demanded that Muslims take on more responsibility in the ideological fight against terrorists. 

There is no, Obama said,

denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like [the Islamic State] and al-Qaida promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity.

That’s a nice thought. But how can one ask that of Muslims when one arbitrarily denies them entry to our country on the apparent basis of little more than their religion? Mutual respect and human dignity are not words that spring to mind when considering the recent spate of seemingly arbitrary denials of entry that barred British Muslims seeking to do no more than visit the US.

After having his permission to travel to the Disneyland cancelled, Mohammad Tariq Mahmood, one of the two adults of the London family accompanying nine kids on the trip, remarked of the Americans who denied him entry, “They think every Muslim poses a threat.” Mahmood can hardly be blamed for this reasonable conclusion.

Since news of their denial came to light, Stella Creasy, the MP from Walthamstow whose constituency includes the would-be Disney revellers, wrote in the Guardian, “other local residents have come forward to say that they, too, have been summarily refused entry to America”. The tie that binds: in all these cases, those denied travel were British Muslims.

This at the same time moment when American liberals, led by Obama and Democratic presidential nomination frontrunner Hillary Clinton, are going to great lengths to emphasize that the vast majority of Muslims, such as the Mahmood family, are not terrorists and that the faith of Islam writ large is not to blame for threats.

These liberals should be lauded for speaking up against a rising tide of Islamophobia on the American right – as evidenced by not only Donald Trump, but a lot of the rhetoric coming out of the Republican presidential race, a dynamic whose inception was not marked by the Paris and San Bernardino attacks but has become worse in their wake.

“Islam is not our adversary,” Clinton said during a November address. “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”

Obama, too, spoke up, using a speech after the California attacks to say, “If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.”

But canceling Muslim Brits’ travel plans at the very last minute risks having exactly that effect.

Take the case of Amjal Masroor, a British imam who has spoken forcefully against the Islamic State (Isis) and about the need to stop young western Muslims from the illusion that they are accomplishing anything by going to fight with the group. “Isis and groups like that don’t represent Islam, they don’t represent humanity, and they’re part of the biggest problem that we face in the 21st century world,” Masroor told Sky News in an interview last year.

Around the same time that the Mahmood family was denied entry to America, so was Masroor, following almost exactly the same pattern, having been granted permission to travel that was then revoked just before boarding.

“[The] USA has the right to issue and revoke visa – I fully understand that,” Masroor wrote on Facebook after the incident. “However not forwarding any reasons infuriates ordinary people. It does not win the hearts and minds of people, it turns them off. I am amazed how irrational these processes are but does USA care about what you and I think?”

If so-called ordinary Muslims – a tasteless phrase meaning the bulk of the world’s 1.6 billion adherents who never think of taking up violence in the name of their faith – can’t be treated like everyone else by American authorities in every manner of interaction, the answer is a resounding no.

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Ali Gharib is a contributor to The Nation. He has written for The Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, Washington Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, Al Jazeera America, Haaretz and Salon. He worked as a reporter at ThinkProgress and Inter Press Service.